Helen’s Tips on Packing Jewelry Tools for Travel

Tools are an essential part of jewelry making. No matter what level maker you are—from occasional jewelry maker to full-fledged bench jeweler—you’ve probably spent a small fortune in acquiring jewelry tools. And, if you’re interested in learning more techniques, you’ll probably take a class or workshop. In that case, you’ll end up carting your tools across town or, in my case, across the country.

When I shot several sessions for my video, Metalsmith Essentials: Basic Fabrication, I wound up shipping my tools 1,500 miles each way to the studio. As I looked out the window of the plane, I knew my babies were traveling as comfortably as I was, because I had protected them for their long journey.

Because I’d packed hand tools, I knew they would have a good chance of not being broken or damaged. My video footage included technique basics—sawing, filing, sanding and hammering—requiring pretty much the basic tool kit every metalsmith carries with them to workshops or classes, so I followed my normal procedure for packing: protect the working ends of the tools, bind them tightly together with cloth or bubble wrap, and pack them so they don’t move around in the carton. I’ve made several tool carrying kits over the years, so I called them into service as well.

Jewelry Tools: Protect Your Investment When Traveling to a Show or Class

Here are a few tips for transporting your jewelry tools in comfort and safety.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

You can never predict what will happen, even with insured and hyper-documented shipping services. I once mailed myself a box of tools and cutting rough using every possible shipping protection possible: insurance, tracking, and everything else, and the package went missing for almost four weeks anyway. It did eventually show up on my porch, wrapped in heavy shrink plastic and looking like it had spent several weeks in a dirty puddle and then baking in the sun. Inside the tattered box, the tools were fine and everything was intact—because I had prepared for as many shipping disasters as possible.

This jeweler’s file wallet ran in my Cool Tools & Hip Tips column in the December 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. It is easy to make if you have rudimentary sewing skills, and it’s a great way to keep jewelry files from abrading against each other during shipping. For directions to make your own, print and use my jewelry-file wallet pattern.

Pack Jewelry Tools Like A Pro

These are the seven deadly sins for jeweler’s tools being shipped: drop, crush, damp, wet, bend, spill, open. Keep them in your mind as you prepare your jewelry-making tools for their journey. If you do, your tools will travel intact and arrive ready to use once you unpack.

The most important thing to do when shipping is to protect the working surfaces, prevent shifting in the shipping carton, and prevent exposure to any kind of moisture. You don’t need to spend a lot of money:

  • Old, orphaned socks make perfectly fine hammer covers.
  • Plastic deli containers with snap-on lids work well for pliers, center punches, scissors, scribes, stamps, and other short, stout tools.
  • Make a “jellyroll” out of bubble wrap, roll tools up in it, and put the roll in a container with the lid snapped on tight.
  • Save those silica-gel packets that come in shoes, electronics, and other consumer goods. They are great to drop in plastic bags and containers as a little insurance against moisture when shipping.

Use strapping tape with fiberglass filaments to secure the carton, because steel is really heavy and cardboard is no match for it.

Tips for Your Jewelry Tools and the TSA

If you are flying, you can’t take tools in your carry-on bag(s), so remember it is virtually guaranteed that TSA will open your checked bag(s) and hand inspect them when the X-ray machine detects steel in there. Do them and yourself a favor:

  • Pack the tools in see-through plastic bags and put them on top of the clothing for easy inspection.
  • Put your business cards in the bags with the jewelry tools so your things stay together. I put my Jewelry Artist business card right on the outside of the clear box with a layer of see-through tape so it is obvious why I’m carrying jewelry tools and odd little bits of metal in my bag.
  • Transparent snap-top plastic photo boxes work great for metal and small tools.

If you can afford it, and if you travel a lot, buy a designated set of travel jewelry tools. That way, if they do go missing, you have a backup at home.

Well, I’m off to pack—there’s another session of footage for the next video in the Metalsmith Essentials set on deck, and I’ve got to get my jewelry tools ready for their journey. I’ll be writing about the off-camera experience of filming metalwork demos in another installment of this blog, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, whether you are new to metalwork or are a more experienced jewelry maker interested in boosting your metalsmithing skills, there are two full hours of must-know tips in my Metalsmith Essentials video. It’s the ultimate resource to help you learn or improve your skills in sawing, filing, sanding, and hammering metals–and speaking of sawing, here’s a free sawing practice pattern sheet to help you improve your sawing skills.

Do you have tips for traveling with jewelry tools? Please share them in the comments below.


Updated July 15, 2018.


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